The Svenssons go to the gym

I was cleaning up some old posts in my blog, and found this one from almost 10 years ago! I thought it was worth sharing. It’s takes us back to times gone by – when tourists came to Stockholm and when public spaces were open without restriction. And when I went to the gym!

I work out at my local gym in a nearby hotel. The gym is used by local residents and hotel guests alike. It’s a small gym, long and narrow, with enough room for one treadmill, a couple of step machines, a few weight machines and a free weights area. Being small it gets easily cramped, so it’s necessary to show respect for each other and cooperate so everyone gets the most out of the space available.

This weekend I was there on my own. It was a paradise. I could move freely about the gym without considering the needs of anyone else. It was a rare pleasure.

Until, hotel guest Mr Svensson walks in. The hotel also has a small plunge pool and Mr Svensson is ready for that. However, he’s decided that a little exercise on the step-machine would be good first. Dressed only in a pair of swimming trunks, bear-breasted and bare-footed, the sweaty 70-year old Mr Svensson climbs onto the machine and starts excersing. Gym etikett? Forgetikett. Half-naked and out of breath, Mr Svensson seems to have no sense of dignity or consideration.

I manage to ignore Mr Svensson, half successfully, when daughter and son-in-law Svensson come in and climb onto the machines beside him. They begin to converse. Loudly. The musical they went to last night was sooo good. Stockholm is sooo stressful. People even run on the escalators. I focus on my arm curls and try to banish them.

I consider myself a person who is able to focus. In most situations. Even Swedish country folk criticising the big city doesn’t penetrate my focus. But then it happens. Grandma Svensson arrives, dressed in an outdoor coat and comfortable boots. In her arms, she carries granddaughter Svensson, a year-old baby, who she proceeds to put down and allow to crawl all over the gym floor.

This rug rat, the loud conversation, the naked step machine grandad all prove too much for me, so I leave. My work-out is finished.

On the way home, I try to analyse the situation. Why did they think it was ok to behave that way in a gym? They clearly had a sense of entitlement.

I don’t know the answer but I am glad of one thing – I am glad I wasn’t in the plunge pool.

Something surprising about Swedish Midsummer

These days, Midsummer Day is a flexible holiday practically celebrated on a Saturday sometime between 20 and 26 June. This means that Midsummer Eve, one of the biggest festivities in the Swedish calendar, is always on a Friday. In the case of 2021, that’s tomorrow.

Bit did you know that this has only been since 1953? Prior to 1952, Midsummer Day was always celebrated today – the 24th June – coinciding with John the Baptist’s birthday. This was regardless of the day of the week it landed on. So today’s strong association with Midsummer being a long weekend is actually only around 70 years old

John the Baptist was a person who foresaw the birth of Jesus. He is considered a prophet in several of the world’s religions. He was a prolific preacher whose severed head was notoriously presented on a silver platter to Salome. His birthday has been celebrated since 300 AD on June 24 in many countries around the world.

An interesting fact is that Midsummer Day is still associated with John the Baptist in the other Scandinavian countries. For example, in Finland it is not called Midsummer but Juhannus. In Iceland, it is Jònsmessa. And in Denmark and Norway – Sankt Hans.

11 hacks for surviving Swedish midsummer

With Midsummer’s Eve arriving on Friday , it is time to start planning for your survival. Midsummer’s Eve is the craziest custom in the Swedish calender and the time of the year when Swedes go a little bonkers. As a non-Swede, get ready to brace yourself.

This year, like last, it is important to wash hands regularly, avoid totally new contacts and keep a physical distance from others. Apart from these guidelines, here are a few more hacks to make sure you make it to Midsummer’s Day in one piece.

Greet like a Swede. In Sweden it is considered polite to greet everybody individually, even if you plan to never speak to them again or remember their name. The appropriate way in corona times is to stand 1-2 meters away, look directly in their eyes, say ‘hej’ followed by your name. They will do the same. You might even give a small wave or touch elbow to elbow. If you are feeling adventurous, follow up your ‘Hej’ with a ‘trevligt’ or even a ‘Glad Midsommar’. Job done. Now you can hit the booze.

Snaps is not the same as a shot. A lot of alcohol gets drunk on Midsummer’s Eve, especially beer and snaps With the popularity of shots in recent years, it’s easy to make the mistake that Swedish snaps is the same thing. Believe me, it is not. Snaps can be up to 40% proof, considerably more than your normal shot. So, go easy and sip the snaps or see yourself slipping sideways off your chair before the strawberry dessert has even been put on the table.

Take tissue. Midsummer’s Eve is a looong day and you probably will need the loo at some point. The trouble is, so will everybody else – to the detriment of the supply of toilet paper. There’s a big chance you will be seeking relief in the woods so come equipped with the appropriate amounts of paper for your needs.

If shy, bring swimwear. Bathing in the June waters is a common activity at Midsummer and this year it seems like the water is warm. Swedes generally are not afraid of skinny dipping when they do this. If you are, then come prepared with swimwear and a towel.

Shelve your maturity. Part of Midsummer is dancing around the maypole, playing silly games, pretending to be a frog, participating in competitions. This year, the activities are hopefully adapted to corona. To survive these activities, it helps to conjour up your inner child and forget you are an adult for a while.

Protect yourself. Given the amount of alcohol consumed at Midsummer, it is no surprise that the most babies in Sweden are made on this day. It remains to be seen, however, if this year people are keeping their distance. If you don’t keep your distance, and don’t want to join the ranks of parents, remember to put it on before you put it in.

Throw in the thermals. It looks like it might be super sunny and warm this Midsummer’s Eve. One of the warmest ever! But it is good to be prepared. It is not unusual that temperatures fall into single figures and that pesky rain pours down onto the smorgasbord. So bring a jumper, a rain jacket and even thermals to enhance your experience.

Don’t expect culinary miracles on Midsummer’s Eve. The food is exactly the same as is eaten at Christmas and Easter, with a few small summery exceptions – strawberries, cream, dill and new potatoes. Remember to use hand disinfectant before you attack the buffet.

Learn a drinking song. On Midsummer’s Eve, food and alcohol is accompanied by Swedish drinking songs. Learn one in advance and shine at the table. Even better sing one in your own language and you are guaranteed to use those rubbers you packed just for the occasion. For me, ‘what shall we do with the drunken sailor’ works every time.

Argue over the rules. At Midsummer a popular Swedish garden game is called kubb. Involving the throwing of sticks, everybody seems to have their own understanding of the way to play. If you want to feel really Swedish, make sure you start an argument about the rules.

Take pills. Of varying types. Allergy pills are good because there are flowers everywhere: on the table, in the maypole, on peoples’ heads. Pain killers are good as a lot of snaps is consumed. Indigestion pills are good as the food is oily, fatty, acidic, smoky and rich. The after day pill is good, well… because…

That’s it! Follow this guide and you are sure to have a wonderous Midsummer’s Eve in Sweden, even though we are still in the pandemic.

Glad Midsommar!

Please share this post to help others get ready for the big day!

Impending crisis in Sweden’s parliament

This week, the Swedish Left Party withdrew their support for the minority Social Democrat government over a rent control argument. This lead to the extreme right party calling for a vote of no-confidence in the Prime Minister and his government, with the conservatives and Christian Democrats jumping on the bandwagon.

On Monday at 10.00, the vote will happen. Currently there is a majority for no-confidence, which would mean the government would topple throwing Sweden into a chaotic parliamentary state. Just what we do not need when we are still fighting the consequences of a pandemic.

If this happens, the Prime Minister can step down and let the parliament sort out a new government. Given that it took four months to sort out a government after the last election, we have even more unnecessary chaos to look forward to.

A more likely alternative is that a new election will be held in three months. This is also unnecessary as next year 2022 is an election year anyway. This means we would have an election in September and then again next September. I’m sure most people don’t want this.

It is so irresponsible of our political leaders, left and right. Throwing Sweden into a parliamentary crisis one year before an election is short-sighted, opportunistic and disrespectful. They have turned parliament into a circus.

A new election costs approximately 400 million Swedish crowns. This is tax payers money that should be spent on helping the economy recover from the effects of the pandemic – not on solving a petty battle between our childish MP’s. Additionally, public sector workers will have to remove their focus from currently important issues to instead organizing and administering an extra election.

If politicians don’t agree with each other, fine. That is why we have budgeted general elections. Let the planned election of 2022 reflect the will of the people. Let the current government continue its work.

Swedish pizza – with cabbage! 


If you want a cultural food experience in Sweden – order a pizza. When you do, you will also experience a very strange bedfellow.

In Sweden, pizza is served with complimentary salad, in both restaurants and take aways. This salad is called creatively –  ‘pizza salad’ and is made of cabbage. It is a kind of coleslaw with white wine vinegar, salt, pepper and oil. It’s fresh, crispy and a bit weird. 

This odd combination is as far as I know only offered in the Nordic countries and its origin is a bit unclear.

One theory is that when the first pizzerias opened in Sweden, the traditional tomato salad wasn’t an option due to the climate in the winter. So, subsequently the pizza baker decided to use a more available, local vegetable – the cabbage – inspired by the Croatian salad ‘kupus salata’. 

Whatever it’s origin, the pizza salad is so ingrained in the Swedish mentality, it’s become a cultural ‘classic’.  In fact, it’s hard to imagine a pizza without cabbage salad in Sweden. 

How to be a parent in Sweden

Back in the days when we could fly, we all used to find ourselves sharing airport space with lots of other people. This led to me developing a specific skill. Wherever I was in the world, I could always identify the Swedish families. It wasn’t to do with language or looks or fashion style. No, it was to do with parenting.

If there was a child, or children, sprinting around the airport without the supervision of an adult – they were without a doubt Swedish. If kids were screaming at top volume without parental intervention – Swedish. If restaurant queues were building up because a kid couldn’t decide what to eat – invariably Swedish. In an airport, the Swedish parenting style was on show for everybody to see.

Swedish parenting is child-centric and comparatively free. It can be perceived as permissive and hands-off. Most parents adopt a communicative style with their children, which can seem to the untrained eye that this means there are no boundaries and no consequences. Children are from an early age involved in decisions that affect them, which is in contrast to a more authoritative and punitive style of parenting found in other countries. This leads to a population where self expression and independence is important

Here are 5 typical parenting behaviours in Sweden:

1) Egalitarian parenting. In Sweden, parents get 480 days of paid parental leave to share and, in heterosexual relationships, 90 of those are non-transferable days for fathers only. This is intended to achieve a more equal division of child-rearing responsibilities. This often extends into the division of duties in the home. So both men an women cook, clean, change nappies and stay home with sick children. For Swedes, it’s a no brainier.

2) Cosiness and cuddling. Friday evenings are reserved for family time. Called ‘fredagsmys’, or Friday coziness, it is when families curl up under a blanket, light candles and watch a film or series together—all while eating tacos, pizza, crisps and sweets. It is not unusual for kids to sleep in their parents’ bed until they reach double digits.

3) Right to Day Care. Every child in Sweden has a right to attend day care from one year old. Day care is subsidised and cheap. At Day Care, the kids spend most of their time playing—academia usually begins in earnest around 6 years old. The other reason for organised child care is so that parents can quickly return to the tax-paying workforce – and collectively finance child care and rest of the welfare state.

4) No spanking. Hitting a child is unthinkable – and illegal – in Sweden. Sweden was the first country in the world to ban spanking and all corporal punishment in 1979. As mentioned before, Swedes apply communicative style of parenting and discipline their children by talking and reasoning with them.

5) Go outside. Outdoorsiness starts early with parents leaving their children outside to sleep in their prams in sub zero temperatures. The crisp air is thought to be good for them. In schools, kids go outside and play every day—regardless of the weather. Some day care solutions are set outdoors with kids spending all day every day in the woods. In the summer, it’s not unusual to see naked kids on the beaches, reflecting Sweden’s relaxed attitude to nudity. Sports and being outdoors are highly prioritised in Sweden. Fresh air, and getting dirty, are considered healthy.

So back to those Swedish kids in the airport. Sure, they justifiably could be seen as unruly, disrespectful and unsupervised. But in equal measure, their behaviour can be a result of a flexible, free parental style that encourages independence and self sufficiency from an early age.

The Swedish Death Penalty

The name Bridget Bishop might not mean anything to you – unless you are seriously into history. On this day, June 10th, in 1692 Bridget Bishop was the first woman to be hanged during the Salem Witch Trials in Massachusetts. In total 19 women were accused of witchcraft and hanged and many others were persecuted. Capital punishment still exists in the USA, with lethal injection and electrocution as the favoured methods. In 2020, 17 executions were carried out in the USA.

In Sweden, capital punishment was legal until 1973, although an execution was last enacted in 1910 on murderer Johan Alfred Ander. The last death penalty was actually given in 1927 but the sentence was changed to hard labour. In 1917, Hilda Nilsson, a child murderer, was sentenced to death. She escaped execution, however, by committing suicide. That meant that the last woman to be executed in Sweden was murderer Anna Månsdotter in 1890.

At the time of its abolition in 1973, beheading was the legal method of execution. Today capital punishment, corporal punishment and torture are all outlawed in Sweden.

Interestingly, 110 countries have completely abolished capital punishment like Sweden. However, over 60% of the world’s population live in countries where the death penalty still exists, such as USA, China, India, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, Iran and Japan.

Swedish National Day – a new king, an old king and a new constitution

On 6 June 1523, Gustav Vasa was crowned king. He was one of the few survivors of the Stockholm Bloodbath, in which his father and 80 other nobles were murdered, Game of Thrones style. He ruled the country until 1560. During his reign, he released Sweden from the Kalmar Union consisting of Sweden, Denmark and Norway. He also turned Sweden from a catholic country into a Protestant one, with the monarch and not the pope as head of the church.

The 6 June is another significant day in Swedish history – on 6 June 1809 the country signed a new constitution. This lay the foundation for Sweden’s current status as an independent democracy. and was in place until 1974. The constitution returned political power to the parliament after King Gustav IV Adolph was deposed in a military coup in 1809. He was the last Swedish monarch to rule over Finland. After him, the crown passed not to his children but to his uncle, Charles VIII. Charles had no legitimate heir, which set into motion the quest for a successor. This was found the following year in the person of Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte, the first monarch of the present royal family.

For these two reasons, Sweden celebrates its National Day today – June 6th. It was declared in 1983, and was first celebrated as a public holiday in 2005.

Normally, the day is celebrated with various events up and down the country but this year much is cancelled, due to the ongoing pandemic and restrictions on public gatherings.

As a replacement http://www.sweden.se are carrying out a digital event. It can be seen at facebook.com/swedense from 10.00 CET. Check it out!

Sex working in Sweden

Today, June 2, is International Sex Workers’ Day. It is celebrated today because on 2 June, 1975, 100 sex workers occupied the Sant-Nizier Church in Lyon, France to express anger about their exploitative living conditions and work culture. The Church was brutally raided by the police forces on 10 June. This action became a national movement and the day is now recognised in Europe and worldwide.

In 1999, Sweden was unique in the world with the introduction of a ‘Sex Purchase Act’. The act makes it illegal to purchase sex but not to sell it. Under this law, it is the customer that is the criminal but not the sex worker, who is considered to already be in a vulnerable position. The law is based on the principle that prostitution is an act of violence against women. The ‘Swedish Model’ has been duplicated and adapted in the other Scandinavian countries as well as Canada, Ireland and France.

The Swedish Sex Purchase Act stands as a complete opposite to the laws in Germany and the Netherlands where the purchasing of sex services is legalized. Proponents of the Swedish law would at this is why Germany and the Netherlands have become European hotspots for sex tourism and trafficking.

However, many organisations, including Amnesty International, WHO and Human Rights Watch oppose the Swedish model. They suggest instead that legalization improves the sex worker’s access to health care, their ability to report crime and ability to organize themselves in, for example, unions. They also claim that the sex worker is not always a victim of the situation and that the Swedish law forces them into risky behavior and contributes to their poverty.

Despite the criticism, the Swedish law stands strong and does not look like it will be changed anytime soon. It seems that most Swedes agree with the law, based on the belief that nobody has the right to buy another person’s body.

What do you think?

Swedish hits 10+++++

Sweden is one of the world’s largest exporters of pop music and has a huge industry of songwriters and musicians. In previous posts, we’ve looked at singers and artists who are Swedish. And there are many more who weren’t mentioned, such as Robyn, Zara Larsson, Neneh Cherry, Leila K, Army of Lovers, The Hives, Alcazar, Tove Lo, Mabel, to highlight a few notables.

However, in today’s tenth and final installment we shine the light on all those songs that have Swedish hit makers behind them, even if the singer wasn’t Swedish.

Sweden’s most famous hit-maker is probably Max Martin. This song-writer and producer has created hits for artists such as Britney Spears, Katy Perry, Coldplay, Backstreet Boys, Taylor Swift, Ariana Grande and the Justins Timberlake and Bieber, to mention a few. Hits such as Hit me Baby One More Time, I Kissed a Girl, I Can’t Feel My Face are his. Consequently, his net worth is estimated at 2.1 billion crowns and he has won songwriter of the year 11 times. He has written 23 Billboard number 1’s, surpassed only by John Lennon and Paul McCartney. In September 2010, he had four songs in the top 5 at the same time. In 2016, he was awarded the prestigious Polar Prize, Sweden’s equivalent to the Nobel Prize for music. The prize recognised his achievements as a prolific song writer and producer.

Another Swedish hit-maker is Redone. With roots in Morocco, he is the writer and producer behind Lady Gaga, with hits such as Just Dance, Poker Face and Bad Romance under his belt. Other than Gaga, he has produced Jennifer Lopez, Usher, Enrique Iglesias, One Direction and Nicki Minaj to mention a few.

A third Swedish hit-maker is Shellback. He works closely with Max Martin and has written songs like Pink’s So What, Taylor Swift’s Shake It Off and Maroon 5’s Moves Like Jagger. With Martin, he also wrote the mega hit Can’t Stop The Feeling for Justin Timberlake. After Max Martin, Shellback has the record for the most number 1 hits on the Billboard charts written by a Swede. He is still active although suffered a burn out a few years ago.

Thomas G:son is another Swedish song-writer who moves in very different circles than the three mentioned above. He is the king of Eurovision and is the Swede who has had the most songs represented in the domestic and international Eurovision Song Contests – 56 in total. His songs have been sung by iconic Swedish singers such as Carola, Kikki Danielsson and Charlotte Perelli. His only winning song in the finals is, however, Euphoria sung by Loreen.